By Colleen Quinn

She was in a trailer. She could tell by the icy drafts that blew across her bare ankles. It was very cold, as if no one actually lived there. There was a very distinctive smell to abandoned property in winter, dust and frozen mouse droppings. It could have been a little boy’s room, a long time ago, although the deadbolt on the door was an unnerving touch. The bed was short and thin and the mattress was stained with long-faded tan blotches that recalled a child’s bedwetting. The dresser had a thick, ugly coat of sky-blue paint and there were tatters gummed to the wall that might have been a child’s artwork. But what sort of child lived in this cold, dark room? Had he fallen asleep listening to the weird creak of the pine branches tossing in the wind? The window shade hung crooked and through the narrow triangle of space between the shade and the window frame, she could see it was getting dark fast. Why is it so quiet? She struggled against the electrical extension cords that bound her to a desk chair so short her knees cropped up in front of her like mountains.

He stood by the window to examine her purse in the dwindling daylight. Most of it didn’t interest him, but he unfolded her wallet reverently, as if he was opening the cover of her diary. He took out the money and stuffed it in the pocket of his jeans. He examined each credit card in turn and stacked them in a neat pile on the edge of the child-size dresser, their edges perfectly aligned. He stared at the photo on her driver’s license for the longest time. It was too gloomy to read his face, but he pronounced her name, “Judy Clark!” as if she was an old friend he spotted on the street. Then he lost interest and tossed the license over his shoulder.

He found four M&Ms in the very bottom of her purse and ate them, munching pensively as he nudged the shade aside with one finger and looked outside. “When Kyle comes,” he muttered, “that’s when we’ll do it.”

He turned with sudden speed, grabbed a metal folding chair from against the wall, whipped it open, and dropped it with a crash in front of Judy. She jumped, but she couldn’t go far. He straddled it backwards and sat only inches away, close enough to count her goose pimples.

“I’m not Kyle,” he assured her. “I’m Davy.”

Davy was not very old and terribly thin. He had bright blue eyes, the sort Judy associated with genius or some other extremity. He had a little borrowed bulk from the ski vest and the plaid flannel shirt he wore, but she suspected that underneath, his chest would be sunken and hairless; a few random black hairs forming the tail of a comet around each nipple, no more.

Judy was a social worker, recently assigned to this rural district. It was hard work: she had to pick up her case files from the office in Albany and then drive over twisting, no-name roads to check on her assigned clients. Her way was often snowy and dark in these quick winter sunsets and took her to lonely little burgs where she never knew what she’d find. She had been so determined to do a good job that when she woke up tied to a chair, her first instinct had been to beg, “Please, it’s my first week.”

Judy’s fourteen-year-old, dingy white Dodge Omni was a poor match for the driving her new job required. The alternator died suddenly, again, on a back road near a trailer park with a terrible name. Oh, what was it? They all sound like soap operas. Pine Haven? Kountry Korners? Every small town in upstate New York seemed to have at least one trailer park, a bleak little warren, grubby and plain, dwarfed by the tall elegant pines that surrounded it. When Davy came striding towards her and the pitiful flap of her open hood, his shadow was long and blue against the snow. He was so confident despite his age, she assumed he was a mechanic. His eyes gleamed so intelligently, he pointed with such authority toward some dark murk in the deepest recess of her troublesome engine, she never saw the blow coming.

“I don’t know how long he’ll be. Maybe he won’t come at all.”

Judy couldn’t tell if Davy was talking to her or not, but he couldn’t possibly expect an answer. Her panty hose now served as her gag, the filmy, empty legs draped down her back. Her gray skirt had been smoothed neatly down to her knees, but she didn’t know what he had done with her shoes.

“ I want to trust Kyle, I really do.” Davy looked forlorn and Judy nearly felt sorry for him, despite her terror. He shut up suddenly, like he shouldn’t have spoken at all.

This all seemed familiar to Judy. How many studies had she read in which an older sibling dominated a younger one? Weren’t abusive situations brutally effective in dividing siblings of the same gender? There was the defender, the instigator, the survivor, the victim, and a hundred shades of possibility in between. Who was Davy? Judy was sure she could figure him out, and in so doing, she would live. To her, he seemed like a boy waiting for an older brother he both adored and feared.

Davy must have sensed her interest. He looked at her wide eyes, every eyelash defined above the unnatural stretch of her lower face.

“Are you a teacher?” he asked. “Nod yes or no.”

She waggled her head from side to side.

“You dress like one,” he commented and rubbed the edge of her skirt. “Kind of ugly. Kyle doesn’t like teachers.”

It wasn’t ugly, she wanted to explain, just cheap and practical. Of course teachers and social workers dressed alike, they were in the same lousy salary bracket. That was why her work clothes were all somber polyester, that was why she drove a car that broke down in snowbank after snowbank. That was why she was here.

She noticed that he had taken her files from the car and spread them out on the stained slender mattress on the bed against the far wall. Had he read them?

“Social worker?”

When Judy saw the shifty gleam in Davy’s eyes, she realized that he probably had a file from one agency or another and they both knew it. Judy had many clients and had only started to get to know them; she tried to think if she had a David or a Davy or a Kyle. Would it be the slender, temporary file of someone whose problems vanished with just a little regular money? Or one of the daunting life histories, thick as cinder blocks, depressing chronicles of cruelty, hard luck, and simple spiraling mistakes? Judy had a few of these; she told herself she’d read them over the weekend. Maybe because it was all she had to cling to, she convinced herself that one of those files was Davy’s and if only she remembered anything from her five-minute perusal, she would be saved.

Her eyes came back to Davy and she saw that his lower lip was quivering, working in and out of his mouth like a child’s just before a tantrum. He dropped his head in his hands and sobbed. When he raised his head, his eyes were big and round and his face was different.

He spoke, but in a little girl’s whisper, “You’ll die here.”

Judy thrashed against the cords that bound her, a fish on a line, and Davy stood up as if frightened. He took a few baby steps backward and it was easy to picture a little girl in shiny Mary Janes and frilly ankle socks moving the same fearful way.

“I can’t stop him,” he whimpered and the sad little girl’s voice was perfect and chilling. Judy thought she might have a guess what was in Davy’s file. “When Kyle comes, you’ll see what he’s like.”

The little girl inhabiting Davy started to cry and backed away even further with those tiny steps. Judy struggled as hard as she could, nearly flipping over. She almost had one arm loose; if she just had a few more minutes she could work free, she knew it.

Her captor had backed into the corner of the room, where it was too dark to see. The crying had stopped, as if he had lifted the needle off a record. Judy craned her neck and stared into the darkness. He couldn’t have left? She worked and writhed, sweating despite the cold.

He lit a lantern with a sudden flash and placed it on the dresser. She gasped and blinked as shadows sprang to life around the room. Even before she saw the new expression on his face or what he held in his hands, Judy knew Kyle had arrived.

A Note From The Author:

Inspiration: I grew up in a small town in upstate New York and when I first moved to New York City, I often heard, "Why did you move to New York? It's so dangerous!" To me, however, sparsely populated places seem much scarier. The empty places, the places in-between, that's where things happen.

Return to Fall 2006 Table of Contents

© 2006 SPINETINGLER Magazine - All rights reserved

Baby Love
If It Bleeds
Behind You!
No Help For The Dying
A Kind of Puritan
A Thankless Child
A Certain Malice